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Sri Lanka in serious trouble, tangled in manifold issues: Karu J

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Text of remarks made at NMSJ press briefing on Thursday

As Sri Lankans, we speak with great sadness today. Our motherland is tangled up in various issues and therefore we would like to mainly focus on only two such aspects. The people are under great pressure today due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The economy has collapsed. Due to the sharp rise in the cost of living, people are going without food and drink. There are many families today who are unable to have three square meals a day.

While the country is facing such a conundrum, several powerful countries in the world have submitted a report to the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) against Sri Lanka. It speaks of imposing embargos on Sri Lanka. Faced with the worst terrorism in the world, we fully understand its seriousness and the devastation it has caused to lives and resources. We also need to understand that the world is not made up of only our country.

The first draft of a resolution on Sri Lanka has been released recently by several countries including Britain, Germany and Canada. The proposal is reportedly due to be discussed on March 1. All countries represented at the UNHRC have been invited to attend. Considering this resolution, it appears that there is no problem with its preamble. It reaffirms the commitment of those countries to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.

But they have expressed regret over the terrorist attack in 2019 and agreed that the last Presidential and General Elections were held in a democratic manner. However, there is a serious challenge facing our country in terms of the clauses included in the resolution. We as a country need to pay close attention to this. We hope that the government will represent the country with the utmost intelligence, mature diplomacy and honesty.

Under no circumstances should we be arrogant or rash. As a democratic country that respects and abides by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Sri Lanka must act in a manner that protects the international prestige and reputation that it has established in the past. Therefore, we reiterate that we must face this challenge with intellectual and diplomatic maturity at this juncture while safeguarding our dignity as an independent, sovereign nation.

If we do not do so and further exacerbate the issue and if for that reason the UNHRC takes a tough decision, it will be people of this country who will suffer and not be the rulers or the politicians of this country. Therefore, we hope that all parties will work together to resolve this issue through dialogue and consensus. If that happens then it would be a great mental relief to all.

We are not expressing these views not to blame or criticize the government but instead because everyone needs to understand the challenge faced by the country. In such a situation, the whole country should be united and be reconciled. But that is not the case. Today, we are a nation divided on various issues. The 20th Amendment has caused a great deal of confusion in the country. The vast majority of religious communities, including the Maha Sangha, as well as the majority of society, are opposed to the 20th Amendment.

I would like to ask the parties who stood for the 20th Amendment if one individual given unlimited powers has managed to fulfill any of the promises given to the country. Is there really any victory the country has achieved due to the 20th Amendment? Did it guarantee the rights of the people of the country? Has the 20th Amendment helped to overcome the economic crisis in the country? What support has it given to combat the Covid-19 pandemic? Was it able to strengthen parliament, ensure the independence of the judiciary or establish the rule of law? Has the infinite power gained by one person through the 20th Amendment equipped the country to face the Geneva challenge? It has reversed all that.

The country’s legislative body has been turned into a barren field and the people’s representatives have been turned into mere puppets. Must I even speak of the state of the judiciary? The country’s economy is on a downward spiral as never before. Today internationally our country has lost many honourable friends. Sri Lanka is becoming isolated in the world.

In addition, as the only country in the world that does not allow burial by interfering with the traditional customs of the Muslim community, our country has been strongly opposed by the Muslim countries and the people of the world. According to reports, even though the Committee of Experts were positive about allowing burials and the Hon. Prime Minister making a public statement in Parliament on the matter, the Hon. Prime Minister as well as the Parliament have been humiliated by the statements made by a State Minister and a Member of Parliament.

It shows the weakness of the government’s decision-making power and has done great damage to its reputation. These are matters that need the attention of the authorities. The government should take a firm decision about burials. Also, the catastrophe caused by 20A could be the beginning of yet another catastrophe. This is evident from the inclusion of both of the above in the Geneva Resolutions.

These incidents took place under the present regime; so taking a closer look at those issues prudent step. But sadly, instead of putting out such fires that have engulfed the country, we have seen a few people intoxicated by greed igniting them instead. This is evident through their attacks on politicians who hold different views and those who do not belong to their camp.

We see the report of the Upali Abeyratne Commission as the worst insult to the judiciary. The world sees this as a great joke. It is seen as an attempt by a greedy government to break the backbone of the opposition and create a perpetual dictatorship in this country by depriving the opposition of their civic rights. Upali Abeyratne’s recommendations have done great damage to the recognition and respect that the Sri Lankan judiciary has gained in recent times, both locally and internationally.

This has caused us great pain. I responsibly state here that in this situation too we act with great confidence in our judiciary. We urge the judiciary to further strengthen that belief. Accordingly, we tell those individuals who are leading this country to destruction today to not boast about their two-thirds majority. Do not set fire to the country at this unfortunate time.

We express these views with the noble objective of creating a just, law-abiding and moral country as wished by Ven. Sobhitha Thera. The vision of making it a success is the sole objective of our organization.



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Amendments to be incorporated into Colombo Port City Bill – GL

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

SLPP Chairman Prof. G. L. Peiris says amendments proposed by government lawyers in respect of the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill submitted to the Supreme Court, through the Attorney General’s Department, would be incorporated into the Bill along with the amendments proposed by the Supreme Court.

Education Minister Peiris, one of the intervening parties in support of the Bill, says the government is confident of the passage of it in Parliament this week.

Prof. Peiris discussed the upcoming two-day debate on May 19 and 20 at the regular SLPP media briefing at their Nelum Mawatha Office in Battaramulla.

The former internationally distinguished law professor and Colombo University Vice Chancellor said that the government was determined to go ahead with the mega project as part of their overall efforts to attract investment. The Minister explained the need to go ahead with planned projects, regardless of difficulties caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic.

The Minister briefly described the procedures adopted in the passage of the Bill.

Petitioners that challenged the Bill included the Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and Ven. Muruththettuwe Ananda Thera represented by SLPP Colombo District lawmaker Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC. Petitioners asked for the Bill to be approved by a two-thirds majority in Parliament and at a referendum.

The only MP other than former Justice Minister Rajapakse to express concern over some provisions in the Bill was Yuthukama leader and SLPP National List parliamentarian Gevindu Cumaratunga.

At the onset of the briefing Prof. Peiris said the government was continuing with a vaccination drive to bring the Covid-19 situation under control. The minister acknowledged the difficulty in procuring the required number of covishield doses for those who required the second dose. The SLPP Chairman said that the government was discussing the issue at hand with both governments and the private sector in a bid to obtain the required stock.

Prof. Peiris placed the shortage of covishield vaccines at over 400,000 whereas the health ministry earlier estimated the shortfall at over 600,000.

Minister Peiris acknowledged that a daily count of approximately 2,500 new Covid-19 cases was quite a challenge though the government sustained efforts to keep the situation under control.

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Covid patients to be treated at centres close to homes

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Those diagnosed with COVID-19 would be sent to treatment centres and Intermediate Care Centres closest to their homes, the Health Ministry said yesterday

The decision was taken at a meeting held yesterday at the Health Ministry. Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi, State Minister Dr. Sudarshini Fernandopulle and Ministry officials took part in the meeting.

 A Health Minister’s spokesman said the decision had been taken to lessen the psychological trauma on the patient and the family.  

 The Ministry will also supply necessary medical equipment and medical staff to treatment centres that are being built by the government and non- governmental organizations.

 State Pharmaceutical Corporation (SPC) has been instructed to procure AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses required for the second jab as soon as possible. (RK)

 

 

 

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Digitalization way forward for Lanka – World Bank

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Healthcare workers in Sri Lanka enter data into the DHIS2 COVID-19 surveillance system(Pic courtesy World Bank)

Digitalization is the way forward for Sri Lanka to transform into a technology-based society, says the World Bank.

The WB report said that the Government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to accelerate digital transformation. In order to reap the benefits of digital technologies, the country now needs to ensure that access to high-speed and affordable Internet is available to all citizens including in remote areas of the country and across income groups and gender. It also needs to ensure that the right policies, laws, and regulatory frameworks are in place to protect the security, data and rights of all especially the vulnerable.

In early 2020, when the COVID-19 lockdown began, Sri Lanka’s food supply chain was significantly disrupted leaving farmers and consumers to face the adverse effects of the pandemic. Wholesale and retail markets were closed and traders were encouraged to deliver food items directly to doorsteps following strict health guidelines.

However, to sell and deliver food items and agricultural products, small traders were required to register at the Divisional Secretariats (DS), local-level administrative units which serve as the primary citizen delivery points.

But government office closures significantly affected this process. Meanwhile, there was no means to submit and process permit requests electronically.

Now, the Government of Sri Lanka, led by the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a highly anticipated digital transformation journey to address such issues.

With support from the World Bank’s Contingency Emergency Response Component (CERC), ICTA is planning to bring services online to 10 selected Divisional Secretariats through piloting the ‘form.gov.lk’ initiative, a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) platform.

The platform will leverage existing infrastructure such as the Lanka Government Cloud (LGC 2.0), the government’s cloud computing infrastructure, and the Lanka Government Network, the government’s private network which connects 860 government offices across the country.

The proposed solution will offer the general public and businesses the capability to fill and submit relevant information and documents digitally without having to visit government offices.

These pilot services will range from civil registrations (births/deaths) and small business registrations to allowing farmers to process police permits for transporting crops.

Once the system is successfully piloted in selected DS offices, the platform can be scaled to other government organizations, reducing travel and building efficiency in service delivery including in areas outside of urban centres and contributing to Sri Lanka’s green recovery.

“Our biggest objective is to build the digital foundation for the government to continue serving all Sri Lankans during a crisis like this. This is just the beginning of our digital transformation journey” says Mehinda Herath, Chief Executive officer of ICTA.

The CERC will also build resilience in public service delivery by enabling government officials to work remotely.

This will be done through the implementation of a government-wide email and collaboration solution and video conferencing facilities; and by enhancing the capacity of the government cloud infrastructure (LGC 2.0) to support more services.

A disaster recovery site will also be established for LGC 2.0 so that critical data is not lost in times of exogenous shocks, including natural disasters such as flooding and cyclones.

“The vision of ICTA is to improve living conditions and livelihoods across Sri Lanka irrespective of geographical locations and other disparities. This will be done through effectively adopting digital technologies and developing the required enabling environment, including the legal framework, basic infrastructure such as unique digital ID and government wide digital connectivity as well as various other aspects that are required to develop the digital economy,” says Prof. Lilith Gamage, Chairman of ICTA.

Transforming Sri Lanka into a technology-based society is one of the key national policy objectives of the country, as highlighted in the President’s manifesto, Vistas of Prosperity and Splendor. This includes the implementation of a “whole-of-government approach” to digital government to improve the delivery of public services to all Sri Lankans; developing the technology industry for jobs and growth; and supporting digital entrepreneurship and growth of a digitally savvy workforce and population.

The government is developing a foundational digital ID system that is backed by biometrics. ICTA together with the Ministry of Justice has also commenced an initiative to establish a country-wide court management system with the aim of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial system.

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